How Long Until Senate Leadership Resorts to the Nuclear Option?

The appointment of Janet Yellen probably won’t provide the last straw, but other coming nominations might.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 05: Janet Yellen (R), nominee for chair of the Federal Reserve, meets with Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in his office at the Hart Senate Office Building, November 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate Yellen will replace outgoing Fed Chair Ben Bernanke. 
Getty Images
Michael Catalin
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Michael Catalin
Nov. 7, 2013, 4 p.m.

The Sen­ate’s nuc­le­ar-op­tion armistice is close to col­lapsing — but not quite yet.

Sen­ate Demo­crats bristled at how Re­pub­lic­ans blocked con­firm­a­tion votes last week on two of Pres­id­ent Obama’s nom­in­ees: Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head the agency over­see­ing Fan­nie Mae and Fred­die Mac, and Pa­tri­cia Mil­lett to serve on the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit.

Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id hasn’t ruled out the op­tion of try­ing to change the Sen­ate’s rules to ban fili­busters against nom­in­a­tions and al­low for con­firm­a­tions on a simple-ma­jor­ity vote (the so-called nuc­le­ar op­tion), lead­er­ship aides say. Even Pres­id­ent Pro Tem­pore Patrick Leahy of Ver­mont took to the floor re­cently to say that if Re­pub­lic­ans do not re­verse them­selves, “drastic” meas­ures should be taken.

It is in this en­vir­on­ment that the highest-pro­file nom­in­a­tion of the fall ap­proaches. Janet Yel­len, Obama’s pick to suc­ceed Ben Bernanke as the head of the Fed­er­al Re­serve Board, will face a Sen­ate Bank­ing Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Nov. 14. Yel­len, nom­in­ated in Oc­to­ber after a lib­er­al re­volt against Obama’s pre­sumptive choice of Lawrence Sum­mers, has been spend­ing time on Cap­it­ol Hill, meet­ing privately with sen­at­ors ahead of her hear­ing.

But Yel­len’s nom­in­a­tion is not likely to be the En­ola Gay in the nuc­le­ar-op­tion battle. “I don’t think this is the right line to draw in terms of mak­ing a polit­ic­al state­ment,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. Ad­ded Dwight Fet­tig, former staff dir­ect­or to Bank­ing Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tim John­son, D-S.D.: “Giv­en the im­port­ance of the Fed chair­man­ship, ex­pec­ted broad sup­port for Yel­len, and de­sire of both parties to avoid fur­ther mar­ket un­cer­tainty fol­low­ing the shut­down and debt-lim­it brink­man­ship, I don’t be­lieve either side will want to use this nom­in­a­tion to wage a polit­ic­al fight.”

Re­pub­lic­ans have plenty of poin­ted ques­tions for Yel­len on mon­et­ary policy, but they’re still pre­dict­ing that she will get the 60 votes she’ll need to over­come the holds against her, in­clud­ing one from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who wants to see an audit of the Fed. Bank­ing Com­mit­tee mem­ber Bob Cork­er of Ten­ness­ee senses there’s no ap­pet­ite among fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans to block her. “I shouldn’t say things like this,” he said. “But, yeah, [she will get 60 votes.]”

Sen. Richard Shelby, the former top Re­pub­lic­an on the Bank­ing Com­mit­tee and a cur­rent pan­el mem­ber, voted against Yel­len as vice chair­wo­man. Even after a “cour­teous” meet­ing with her, Shelby said he has some prob­lems with her nom­in­a­tion. But will that be enough to vote against clo­ture and maybe ig­nite the nuc­le­ar spark? “I be­lieve, at the end of the day, the Fed­er­al Re­serve nom­in­ee — un­less bar­ring something aw­ful hap­pen­ing — should have prob­ably an up-or-down vote,” Shelby said.

Yel­len can ex­pect to face ques­tions about her time as head of the Fed­er­al Re­serve Bank of San Fran­cisco, wheth­er her views are too Keyne­sian, and wheth­er she fa­vors the Fed’s un­em­ploy­ment man­date over its in­fla­tion man­date. Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans cite in­fla­tion and quant­it­at­ive eas­ing as top wor­ries. “There is con­cern at this point about the mon­et­ary eas­ing the Fed’s go­ing through and wheth­er she’s go­ing to be care­ful so that we don’t get in­to an in­fla­tion­ary prob­lem down the road,” said Sen. John Ho­even, R-N.D.

Demo­crats are broadly sup­port­ive of Yel­len. Some, es­pe­cially Sen. Eliza­beth War­ren of Mas­sachu­setts, will want to hear Yel­len’s views on the Fed’s reg­u­lat­ory role, but giv­en re­cent Demo­crat­ic dis­cip­line it would be sur­pris­ing to see de­fec­tions. So, if Yel­len has the votes to over­come Re­pub­lic­an holds, what sense does it make to flip the nuc­le­ar switch over her nom­in­a­tion? aides ask. “We’re not go­ing to pree­mpt­ively go nuc­le­ar,” a Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship aide said.

But that doesn’t mean the de­bate over Sen­ate rules has been put on hold. “I think Mel Watt’s nom­in­a­tion has already re­opened that, and [weigh­ing the nuc­le­ar op­tion] is already well un­der­way,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., a Bank­ing Com­mit­tee mem­ber who sup­ports Yel­len and is one of the Sen­ate’s lead­ing pro­ponents of go­ing nuc­le­ar.

In­deed, Watt and Mil­lett could soon have com­pany as nom­in­ees un­able to win 60 votes to over­come fili­busters. Ar­guing that the D.C. Cir­cuit has too light a work­load and that judges ap­poin­ted by a Demo­crat­ic pres­id­ent would ad­opt a lib­er­al view on the bench, Re­pub­lic­ans have signaled they will block Obama nom­in­ees Cor­ne­lia T.L. Pil­lard and Robert L. Wilkins as well. Re­id’s of­fice said a clo­ture vote on their nom­in­a­tions could come as soon as Monday, but Re­pub­lic­ans are skep­tic­al of the nuc­le­ar saber-rat­tling, reas­on­ing that the Demo­crats know they could lose their ma­jor­ity some day.

“You can only run that drill so many times,” Cork­er said. “I’m sorry. I can’t take it ser­i­ously.”

If Re­id fol­lows through with an­oth­er show­down over nom­in­a­tions, it would be the first time since a Ju­ly truce, brokered in part by Sens. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., and John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., after a rare, all-sen­at­or meet­ing in the Old Sen­ate Cham­ber. The way Demo­crats see it, qual­i­fied nom­in­ees are en­titled to a simple-ma­jor­ity vote, and Re­pub­lic­ans are pick­ing on nom­in­ees whose agen­cies or po­s­i­tions they fun­da­ment­ally dis­agree with.

Re­pub­lic­ans sound weary of the fight and are ready to find out wheth­er Demo­crats are bluff­ing. “It’d be really bad form,” Cork­er said. “After all that oc­curred this sum­mer, to then come out and say — you might as well, if every time someone has con­cerns about nom­in­ees the nuc­le­ar op­tion comes up, you might as well be at a 51-vote threshold. If they do it, they do it.”

What We're Following See More »
RSC OPPOSITION
House Conservatives Balk on Obamacare Replacement
27 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"The chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee said Monday he would vote against a draft ObamaCare replacement bill that leaked last week. Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), head of the 172-member committee, said Monday his opposition stems from the draft bill's use of refundable tax credits." He said the current plan simply "kicks the can down the road" rather than attempt any real reform.

Source:
ENLISTS THEIR HELP IN REPEAL/REPLACE
Trump Meets with Health Execs
27 minutes ago
THE LATEST
ALSO VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE BY ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS
Scalia’s Widow to Be Trump’s Guest at Speech
28 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

The White House revealed its guest list for President Trump's address to Congress on Tuesday night. The marquee name: Maureen Scalia, the wife of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Also seated with the first lady will be three family members of people killed by illegal immigrants.

ZINKE NEXT IN LINE
Wilbur Ross Confirmed as Commerce Secretary
44 minutes ago
THE LATEST
FORMER GOVERNOR, AMBASSADOR TO CHINA
Jon Huntsman in Line to be #2 at State
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login